Unfolding the Map
We whip past Whipholt, on the shore of Leech Lake, but not before we notice the wake robins dotting the aspen woods in this glacial lake country. What are wake robins? I have a hint for you, Littourati...they aren't birds. Also, find out where Whipholt sits by whipping over to the map.
"The highway out of Walker went through Whipholt, past the roads to the Indian towns of Boy River, Federal Dam, and Ball Club. The land alternated between marsh and aspen woods filled with white blossoms of wake robin."
Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 11
I never paid much attention to flowers, other than to notice that they were pretty and often smelled nice.
I don't know why. I guess I just was interested in other things as a kid. Flowers were seen as girl-stuff, and I wanted to be into boy-stuff like sports and hunting and jumping my bike off insane ramps and other things boys did. Of course, eventually I started paying attention to girl-stuff...when I started noticing girls. Flowers were something girls liked, it seemed, so when I did pay attention to flowers, it was because I wanted to make a girl happy with a flower, or because I was in high school going on prom dates and I had to think about getting my date something nice in the form of a corsage for her dress. Once in a while, I would notice the large installations of flowers at the few funerals that I attended.
It is only now, in the latter part of my first half century, that I find myself paying more attention to flowers, and other things that involve beauty and color. I think maybe it was living in Texas for a few years that really made me notice wildflowers. Lady Bird Johnson had put a lot of support behind an initiative there to beautify the highways by planting wildflowers in medians and on verges, and one could not help but notice the bluebonnets and indian paintbrush on drives through the Hill Country that exploded in color every spring. My eyes would feast on this floral delight and I never got tired of it.
I also became very fond of orchids. One flower that I noticed when I was young were tiger lilies that grew on the banks of rivers near the town in which I was raised, and orchids seemed very like them. To me, they seemed like a cross between another world and ours, a fantastic life form whose geometry and color almost sucked me in. A neighbor hybridized and grew orchids for shipment around the world, and he showed me his successful experiment in hybridizing tiger lilies with an orchid. At least, that's what I remember him showing me. To this day, I often send an orchid when I want to send flowers to someone who means something special. That the orchid symbolizes love, luxury, beauty and strength, wisdom, and thoughtfulness lends it even more power. It's name comes from the Greek word for testicle, giving a reproductive and earthy aspect to its symbolism as well.
Later still, cactus flowers caught my attention. Living in a desert, I barely notice cacti, until in the spring when they burst forth with intensely colorful flowers. That something of such beauty can come out of something so stingy in its adaptability to dry climates that it hoards water within itself and grows sharp spines to protect itself seems simply wrong. But every spring, a riot of color breaks out among these thorny, prickly things and proves that even the most hardened bit of life can also have its moments of beauty and glory.
So, it was with interest that I saw LHM refer to wake robins in his post, which he sees after passing Whipholt, a town that one probably would miss if they blinked while passing by. I didn't know what wake robins are, but discovered that the name is an alternative for trillium, and refers to the fact that the trillium blossoms in the spring about the time the robins come out. There are many different varieties of trillium, but it appears that the type that LHM must have seen as he drove in this area of Minnesota might have been the Trillium grandiflorum, or the white wake robin. They appear to be interesting plants, which depend on ants to disperse their seeds. The name trillium comes from the three leaves which they sport (the number three being very symbolic and a sacred number to some), and this type of trillium is not only the state wildflower of Ohio but it is also the symbol of the province of Ontario.
There is not much I can find about the symbolism of trilliums other than their association with Ohio and Ontario, but they have been utilized for food and folk medicine. The young leaves can be added to salads. The root, when prepared properly, has been used as an antiseptic, a diuretic, to treat spasms, and as an anti-diarrheal. It is also known by the name birthroot because of Native American uses for childbirth and to promote menstruation, and it was considered a sacred female herb. It also appears to have many other actual and potential uses.
One of my goals, someday, is to have a garden where I have a mix of domestic and wild flowers. I recently read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and the idea of a wonderful garden, rich with flowers that draw other types of wildlife, appeals to me. I hope that I can realize that goal someday, and I think that my budding (no pun intended) interest in flowers will help keep that goal in front of me for some time to come.
I wanted to find a song about trilliums, and did find the name of a classical piece called The Trillium composed by George Whitefield Chadwick as part of his A Flower Cycle, but I couldn't find an actual recording of the song on the internet. However, LHM refers to trilliums as wake robins, and I did find a song called Wake Robin performed by jazz musician Bob Acri with Diane Delin, George Mraz, Lew Soloff, Ed Thigpen and Frank Wess. I don't know if it is named after the flower, but it's a nice jazz tune.
If you want to know more about Whipholt
Sorry, folks. There really isn't anything on the internet about Whipholt. However, LHM mentions some other "Indian towns" to the north that he didn't visit in his quote, so here's some information on them.
Next up: Jacobson, Minnesota